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Judicial reviews for compassionate release “exploded” during the pandemic, said Katharine Tinto, director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at the University of California Irvine School of Law. But the requests being filed are also arguing for release based on unjust sentences, including that sentencing laws have changed, she added.
White’s attorneys cite several reasons in their motion the say make him deserving of release, including his more culpable co-defendant, Mayfield, served less time, the crime he committed has been widely criticized as flawed, and the sentence he faced has been deemed by Congress as overly harsh. They also cite his track record in prison and the fact that he contracted COVID-19 while behind bars.
Erica Zunkel, White’s lead attorney, said the combination of problems she sees with his case are a symptom of mass incarceration at the federal level and that the time has come for the Department of Justice to reevaluate how it charges cases and Congress to reconsider the laws in general.
For example, after White rejected the government’s offer of a 15-year sentence for pleading guilty, prosecutors doubled a 10-year mandatory minimum he faced based on his prior drug possession charge. And though a change in sentencing laws has since removed that specific enhancement, it is not retroactive and does White no good.
“This case presents probably the most compelling constellation of factors for what is wrong with the federal system at this point,” said Zunkel, associate director of the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School. “I have no doubt that (should) Dwayne get out tomorrow he will never be in trouble again.”
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